Earlier last month, we travelled to Marsabit on a trip curated by Xtrym Adventures. An expedition that gave us the opportunity to marvel at the scenic route of Great North Road, explore the dusty fascinating barren lands of Chalbi desert and enjoy a morning of serenity in the Marsabit National Park. In case you missed it, here is a vlog documenting how that went.
Based on that trip, I got numerous questions on my Instagram that I thought I should address here for future reference especially now that many of you are intrigued by these uncharted lands and are planning to go explore them yourselves. I hope you find these tips helpful and you can comment down below anything you feel I might have left out.
The first and the most important thing you need to do is point out the areas you are willing to explore and come up with some sort of itinerary. I say this because this part of the country is vast and while it might be tempting to want to see it all; you may not have enough time to do so.
Our trip was centered on us exploring Marsabit, with a highlight trip to the Chalbi Desert over the weekend; therefore, we travelled straight to Marsabit and made a day trip to the Chalbi Desert. To get to the tallest dune in the Chalbi Desert, we got as far as North Horr; which at that point we were closer to Lake Turkana (1.5 hours away) than we were to Marsabit (almost 4.5 hours away).
This is to say that you can opt to first visit Turkana (Loiyangalani) then head to North Horr then Marsabit. Your route will obviously be dictated by your point of interest, but coming up with an itinerary will help you identify points you may opt to skip.
Assuming you choose to follow our itinerary and plan to explore both Marsabit and Chalbi over a weekend, you then need to do so from the wee hours of Friday. Marsabit is 530.9 km from Nairobi, a journey that will most likely take the better part of your day. Especially because you’ll want to make pit stops and take pictures along the way. We left Nairobi at 4.30 am and were in Nanyuki by 8.30 am for our first pit stop and at Marsabit at around 5.30 pm.
Make sure to start your journey early so you can have enough time to accommodate pit stops. It is also important to point out that the first day will mostly be a travel day, but on one of the best roads, most breathtaking roads in Kenya.
I am by no means an automotive expert and will therefore not go into the details of what features your vehicle needs to have to make this trip, but I will say this. The road to Marsabit is one of the best roads we have in Kenya, no potholes, clearly marked and for the most part, no traffic. So most cars will be able to hack this road, however, there are sections of the road, especially as you approach Marsabit that are quite steep (you’ll notice many designated climbing lanes) so put this into consideration when deciding which vehicle to use.
As for the trip to Chalbi, you’ll definitely need a 4*4 or any off-road vehicle as the road is not at all tarmacked.
Also, as mentioned in the vlog, there are stretches on the road to the desert that can be very challenging especially when it rains, so you’ll need a vehicle that can handle the road when it gets muddy.
Chalbi Desert Extreme can organize a trip for you from Marsabit where they’ll sort you with a land cruiser and a driver. I should, however, mention that they being the only guys to offer such trips, they do enjoy a strong monopoly. This might be challenging, especially when the drivers they send, try to pull your arm for more money on the day of the trip; as it was the case in our trip. To avoid the hassle, have the driver and car spend the night at your camp or make sure to contact several car-hires before your trip. I would recommend John (0710695056) who proved to be a very good driver and also doubled as a guide as he was very informative.
The journey to Marsabit will take you through some of the most diverse climate regions. You’ll start in the cold, highlands of Mount Kenya regions and then through the mountain’s leeward side where you’ll start to experience hot, dry regions of Nanyuki, which then get hotter and drier once you pass Isiolo. Much as Northern Kenya is dry, Marsabit is very lush and experiences cold temperatures especially at night.
So make sure to pack both light breathable clothes for the hot regions and a warm jacket or blanket for the nights at Marsabit. It is important to also note that it does get really hot in the Chalbi Desert, therefore, on top of wearing light clothes, and making sure you carry plenty of water, apply sunscreen and carry your swimwear if you opt to stop at the swimming pool resort at North Horr .
Now given what we see on the news about Northern Kenya, security is a major concern when you are considering traveling to this part of the country. I will say this, at no point during our trip did we feel unsafe or came across any incident that made us fear for our lives. But for reassurance, the road to Marsabit has several security checkpoints where they inspect your travel documents/ID/passport, your vehicle, and your luggage.
Marsabit town is also safe, especially if you choose accommodation in a guarded area. We set camp at Marsabit National Park and the only thing we were worried about at night was the roaming hyenas. We also didn’t experience any security concern when visiting the Chalbi Desert, although you can opt to hire security to guard you if that would make feel safer.
Quick Tip: When traveling, I always make sure someone back at home knows where I am, just in case of anything. I find it’s important for a loved one, friend or your mama, to get an update every few hours or so, just as a precaution.
As I mentioned, there is so much to do and see in Northern Kenya, even in Marsabit and the Chalbi Desert. And while a weekend trip will get you to see the best of this region, you’ll definitely need more time for an experiential trip. If you’ll like to fully immerse yourself in Marsabit, the people and their ways of life, you’ll need to allocate more time. Marsabit has 47 communities living in the region, the Chalbi Desert has so much more to see than the dunes and Marsabit National Park is spread across 1,554 km2. Do you see why you need more time to explore?
All in all, I really enjoyed my trip to Marsabit and would go back in a heart bit. I’m also hoping to visit Turkana and Samburu and see what else the North has to offer. You’ll, of course, be the first to know when this opportunity arises, and we can go adventure together. Anyway, I hope you consider taking a trip to Marsabit and Chalbi desert this year and experience these unbeaten yet intriguing paths. And when you do, don’t forget to tag me on social media and let me know how it went.